A couple friends have asked questions about tracks, questions which reveal that it is kind of assumed they’re not much different than arenas.
That could not be further from the truth. Racetracks are meticulously maintained in order to provide a safe surface for horses going at maximum speed.
Having ridden racehorses – some of them at speed – I can also say that the average rider has no idea what speed really is. Many people have ridden what’s called a hand gallop and consider that relatively fast, and probably not too much slower than a real gallop. The truth is that racehorses gallop easily at a speed faster than a hand gallop. Though it may not look fast at the morning exercise at the track, it’s necessary to remember that the track is large. If you measure off the length of an arena using the rail supports for guides, it helps put it in perspective.
Running is even faster. Running – not even full speed – causes human eyes to water and clothing to snap in the wind. At 10 miles an hour LESS than full speed, a horse runs the length of a 100 foot long arena in 2.2 seconds. At full speed, he can cover that distance in under 2 seconds. Stand at one end of the arena, next to the fence, and count off 2 seconds, while imagining a horse disappearing out of the arena at 2. That is speed.
During the course of a galloping stride, each of a horse’s legs supports his entire weight, unlike at the canter. The force generated is significant. After the hoof has come to a stop, and while it supports the horse prior to breakover, vertical Ground Reaction Force (GRF) peaks, “and may reach 2.4 times the body weight of the animal at a racing gallop.” (Witte et al. 2004). That means 2400 lbs of force exerted on a single leg. Each leg in turn, at every stride. As that one hoof comes down, if it should hit a bad spot or in some way not land correctly, there is nothing to stop the horse from tripping, falling, or perhaps breaking a leg.
Clearly the risk for injury is great. Racetracks are designed, built, and maintained to minimize this risk. Click here to read the Jockey Club white paper on racing surfaces.
Click here to view the data on the track surface collected every 15 minutes at California racetracks. (Look under Latest Track Observations.)
My youngest son visited last week and together we dug and hauled dirt from the hill to the dip in the track. The dip was not a big problem while I was just trotting Chance, but now that we’ve started galloping, it has become a real issue. It took 7 wheelbarrows worth of dirt to bring the ditch level with the track. (See photo below.)
We got the dirt in the night before rain was expected, and it was my hope that the rain would settle the dirt and help it compact a little, as it was deep and powdery. Well, we got more rain than expected – 2 days worth – and though the dirt did settle it has not exactly compacted. When I walk on it, it feels very hard and the photo below shows my boot prints, as it holds my weight easily. Unfortunately, even three days after the last rain, it hasn’t dried, and is sort of similar to Play Doh or modeling clay. It sort of oozes in a very slow, heavy way. And worst, Chance makes deep hoof prints just walking on it. (See photo below.)
As a result, I haven’t ridden him since the dirt went down. Thankfully, the weather is calling for no rain for the next several days. However, as a backup plan I am hacking a detour which will bypass the ditch and create a curve in the track. Hopefully that will work.
Galloping Chance raised another issue. The clubhouse turn was not rideable at the gallop, one corner being too sharp. I have weed whacked the turn into a new configuration which should ride well. I also reconfigured the far turn – just making the cleared area larger, so that there are options for taking different angles.
Curious about how fast I can go around the turns, I tried to mentally compare them to those of a small track I rode on in the 70′s. In my memory, the track was not large and the turns were tighter than mine. But it was over 30 years ago. Then it dawned on me to use Google Earth! The farm was still there, as was the track and I used the ruler tool to measure the turns. One turn was 179 feet and the other was 120 feet. The distance (cutting through the center of the track) was less than 400 feet. So not very big.
Using my wrist GPS I measured the clubhouse turn this morning. Walking the center line of the turn measured 224 feet – so it is definitely a longer turn. Which is good.
Was very busy the last ten days. Three full and exhausting trimming days totaling over 1,000 miles of driving and 32 horses. My son visited, and I had a trimming student for 3 days (days only, she didn’t stay over). Anyway, no one got ridden, although four horses did get trimmed.
Chance and Zola are fine. Sweet Tea has the exact same swollen knee that Chance had a few weeks ago. Lena is dead lame on her left front – due to her hoof cracks growing out. I have to say she does walk much faster if grain is in the offing! In addition, she has become quite friendly and seeks affection. Unlike many horses, she doesn’t mind kisses to her face and actually seems to like them, as she presents her face. I have been letting her loose in the big field with the other horses – since she is lame – though I have to admit, she comes over to the gate when she’s ready to come back in. Sweet Tea is also now free to be loose in the big field. In fact, every morning I turn them all loose with the exception of Bettina, who has proven time and again that she cannot be trusted if Huey is out. She will graze for a while, then, when sated, lures Huey (and anyone else willing to go!) into exploring.
Hopefully, I’ll get my track detour done today – it’s no easy feat cutting through four foot tall grass, clover, and weeds. Especially after the rain, which seems to have made them much tougher.